Summit County officials weigh in on Climax Mine’s plan to discharge molybdenum
Colorado health officials decided Wednesday to delay for two years a decision to increase the safe level of molybdenum pollution in Colorado waterways. That includes Ten Mile Creek, which runs through Summit County and empties into Dillon Reservoir.
Climax Mine extracts molybdenum, an element used for steel processing, at a site along Ten Mile Creek. Climax has been lobbying the state to increase its regulatory limit of molybdenum pollution from 210 parts per billion (ppb) to 9,000 ppb for domestic waterways, and 160 ppb to 1,000 ppb for agricultural irrigation. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has already extended Climax a “temporary modification” allowing increased molybdenum levels through December 2018.
Officials from CDPHE and the Environmental Protection Agency decided to move a hearing on the proposal from December 12 to November 2019, citing the need for further study of the proposed limit increase on humans and the environment.
Summit County officials, while welcoming the public health’s delay in making a decision, are standing together against the proposal to allow more molybdenum in Summit’s waterways.
A group of local stakeholders issued a joint statement opposing the increase before Wednesday’s hearing. Representatives from the Town of Frisco, Copper Mountain Consolidated Metropolitan District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, and several other local government bodies stated that Climax’s proposal carried “unacceptable levels of uncertainty and risk” to human and animal health.
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said she expected the state to delay the hearing. She believes that the research available is inadequate, having not been peer-reviewed or comprehensive enough in its analysis. For example, she says, the studies did not seem to take into account the effect of molybdenum on pregnant rats, or take into account what longer-term exposure could have on humans or agricultural.
Frisco councilwoman Jessie Burley said she agreed with the delay to get more information about molybdenum and its effect on the environment. However, she is “generally opposed” to increasing pollutant levels in Frisco’s waterways, especially Ten Mile Creek, given how much the water impacts the health and safety of Frisco’s residents.
Lane Wyatt, co-director of the NCCG’s Water Quality/Quantity Committee, has been advising local leaders on the molybdenum issue. Wyatt believes the state is prudent in delaying its decision and welcomes Climax’s attempts to be transparent.
However, Wyatt says the initial research done by independent experts have already shown that high concentrations of molybdenum pose increased risks to human health, and that is enough to consider the molybdenum increase a non-starter.
Additionally, he sees Climax’s effort to get the state’s approval on increased molybdenum levels as a small foothold for its bigger ambitions to export molybdenum to other places, such as the European Union with its stricter environmental standards.
“Climax has been a good neighbor to Summit County,” Wyatt says, “but the community does not want to be a guinea pig for fooling around with how much molybdenum is in the water before it becomes a problem.”
Before the November 2019 hearing, the department of public heath’s water quality commission will hold other limited-scope hearings. One such hearing will take place on January 8 on whether to extend a site-specific temporary modification. The NCCG says it welcomes comments regarding molybdenum, and the public may do so by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The commission is requesting all public input by Wednesday, Dec. 27.
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